Monday, April 30, 2018

It's Elementary all the way as season six begins.

Returning to CBS's Elementary for the start of season six was . . .  [Prepare for spoilers, of course. this is as much recap as review.]

It began on a coroner's autopsy table. Because where else do you go when your mother's ghost has tried setting your house on fire? It seems like MRI results take a lot longer in New York than Peoria, as tonight's returning Elementary found its hero waiting for them at the coroner's office instead of more medical facilities. But apparently he has been having a lot more tests than that.

A scene change to a sex tape and a kill room, and we're off to the credits.

Joan Watson is setting appointments to see clients in the police station conference room, which seems good enough for discussing client issues, but not her partner's medical condition. That happens back in their NYC brownstone home, where the combination of a concussion with all the boxing, drugs, etc., that this Sherlock has done to his head over the years, are apparently going to cause his mental faculties both to decline and have some other symptoms that aren't quite great for the detective business. Admitting all of this to Joan, though, gets him that sweet long hug that was seen in the preview, followed by this peach of a line:

"My personality hasn't changed, Watson."

It's really nice to see some warmth between this pair, as so much of the series has seemed about setting them on separate paths. But for those of us who might not have seen Jonny Lee Miller's character as a viable Sherlock before, brain damage certainly isn't raising his stock. As always, Gregson and Watson seem to do as much investigating as their Holmes does. And it's looking like they're going to need to, as the medical condition plotline goes on.

Jonny Lee Miller does a fine job portraying a man about to lose his life's calling due to medical issues. The frustration, the fear, the sorrow. But he pulls it together for some more sex tape hijinks that will break the case.

It's plain that Elementary has reached a certain comfort zone for its sixth season. Its Sherlock is hitting his recovery support group and being a lot less of a dick to Joan. At the end of it all, it's all about the main character starting another form of recovery -- this time from brain trauma instead of addiction. It also sets up a new arch-nemesis whom this Sherlock is unknowingly taking on as a friend, which is very reminiscent of the unknowing relationship with Moriarty that set this whole series in motion to begin with.

It's not ACD. It's not Sherlock. But it also looks like Elementary is remaining true to its fans in what may be its final season. Will there be any surprises along the next twenty-some episodes?

We have all summer to find out.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

More than a fan? Whatever.

In this week's marginally Sherlockian activities was a certain film with Benedict Cumberbatch doing his American accent and gesturing a lot. I won't get into that in depth here, but one portion of the whole experience that touched most upon Sherlockian life was a gift I got from a buddy of mine for going to the movie.


The back of the shirt listed the ten years of movies leading up to the current one, in a design patterned after a rock concert tour shirt. But on the front? "MORE THAN A FAN."

It made me laugh, seeing that phrase coming up as a point of pride outside of our little Sherlockian world. Only a fan would wear such a shirt. And only a fan would care that they were "more than a fan." And what the hell does that even mean?

Did you create the thing that you're supposedly not a fan of? That's about the only way I could see that you'd be more than a fan. And I'm sure creators would just wear shirts that said "I CREATED THIS! ME!" if they felt the urge.

So why the need not to be see as "merely a fan?" Why the need to differentiate between terms like "Sherlockian" and "Sherlock Holmes fan?"

Pondering this question once again in looking at it happening in a much more mainstream fandom than out own, one answer became apparent. Why consider yourself more than a fan?

Simple. Because fans are the horde. The masses of humanity. The ordinary folk who merely like something a lot. They're not the unique and rare individual who has done all that [insert name of differentiating fan here] has done. We're not the zombies who just walk toward the shiny object, we're the surviving humans who are much more complex than that, right?

It would be quite a helpful thing if we could celebrate our own uniqueness without creating straw men armies of those who aren't us, just to feed our egos when their ego-bellies are a-rumbling. The "fans" that we aren't, having self-identified as "aficionados," "cognoscente," or some other title that really should be bestowed by an outside agency. And what is any expert in a given field, not born so by natural talent, but a fan of that field?

What it really comes down to is this. You can be a Sherlockian, a Sherlock Holmes fan, a Holmesian, a Sherloxpert, a Arthority Conascente Doyloctopus, or whatever you want to identify as, in order to deal with your personal issues. Do some identity self-care, that's cool. But it's just bad manners to insist that the rest of the world agree with the rules of your bubble, and a bit obnoxious to walk around with it in giant letters on a t-shirt. (You can certainly sleep in it though -- this is a pretty comfy shirt. I can soak in how much I am "MORE THAN A FAN" all night long, then be a civil fan in the daylight hours.)

So celebrate your own uniqueness in whatever way you see fit, while letting others do likewise. Even if they're wearing a bow-tie, which is sure a lot more freak-flag fanboy than t-shirts ever were. There's nothing wrong with bow-ties, nothing at all. They're fine.  Just fine. Bow-ties. Yep. Fine.

Just fine. No judgement. See, I own this obnoxious t-shirt, what do I know about fashion?

Or ending blog-posts while biting my tongue. Bow-ties. Huh.

The return of damaged Sherlock

With CBS's Elementary returning on Monday night for the start of a sixth season, it's a good time to step back and review what this show is about. Set that ACD Canon aside for a moment, because as any good Elementarian knows, we're heading back into deepest, darkest AU terrain.

In the alternate Sherlock universe of Elementary, you may recall, we encounter a modern day incarnation of Sherlock Holmes after what might be seen as a parallel to the "great hiatus." He's been a consulting detective working with Scotland Yard, and has run into the threads of Moriarty's criminal web. Yet in this world, Moriarty isn't a "Final Problem" and done. No. Moriarty wins.

Moriarty has killed Sherlock's lover, he has sunken into heroin addiction seriously enough to have his father send him for rehab in the United States, and when Sherlock leaves rehab, his father hires the daughter of Mary Watson, ex-surgeon Joan, to be Sherlock's companion and keep him off the drugs.

The five seasons that follow weaved a tapestry of student-teacher relationships, drug dependency issues, autism spectrum notes, male family member drama, and a little bit of Sheriarty and Joancroft. What seemed an odd departure from Sherlockian norms in its first season now has a comfortable, not-all-that-remarkable feel to it, unless you count its conservatively heterosexual bent. And going into season six, Elementary's troubled Sherlock seems to have some manner of brain damage to deal with, one of those odd TV-medical issues that makes you hallucinate people to talk to. He and Joan were fighting a lot at the end of last season, but the preview of this year's opener has a very nice hugging scene in it, so it appears all that is water under that bridge you can see from Sherlock's brownstone roof.

Elementary is very much an alternate universe for those who like weekly police procedurals with a strong dose of keeping Sherlock Holmes humbled, almost an antithesis to the more grandiose Sherlock Holmes of a certain other series. Nobody is probably going to get too riled up about season six and declare that their headcanon stopped after season two. After almost six years and a wee bit of a hiatus of its own, Elementary has found its place in this weird and wacky Sherlockian world of 2018, maybe not in the forefront of Sherlockian fandom, but a familiar pillow on the larger couch for an evening of settling in.

Who knows, an Elementary alum might even make it to the January BSI dinner one of these days . . . being the primary Sherlock of New York City, the show would seem only appropriate for a presence at the primary Sherlock Holmes club of New York. But that's for some future day. For now, it's back to a full season of Elementary on weird old CBS.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Life without Sherlock Holmes

April has been a very strange month in Sherlock Peoria land.

As much written-about here, there was a period of totally Sherlockian living for a while, days as a Sherlock Holmes fan among Sherlock Holmes fans. But as the oft-theorized karmic balance would seem to have it, those days had to be balanced with a similar period of absolutely zero Sherlocks.

Maybe one sighting of a "Baskerville Apartments" pokestop. Maybe a couple of smart-alec text messages from a co-worker with lines like "Mariah says come find us, Sherlock!" But those hardly count.

And the week is only half over, with obligations both professional and social holding back the river of Holmes that Sherlockian synapses keep bringing to the edge of output. One's audio Dorian Gray portrait, so to speak, starts to show some very strange features. (And if that statement is overly cryptic, well . . . like I said there are things being held back . . . the sort of things being held back that start turning a bit off.) When the usual things don't get to fall into their usual places, whatever remains, however improbable, must be unusual.

And perhaps in that realm of Sherlockiana where few really care to go.

But that's what happens when one gets pulled from the normal paths for a time. Eventually things get back to normal, but when they do, a little of the abnormal comes back with them.

So lets see what comes. Something to do with Sherlock Holmes, I suspect.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

An open door to the outside world

Listening to the "Back Row Super Show" podcast this morning, as the topic was last weekend's 221B Con. It's not a Sherlock Holmes based podcast, and that's what makes it a really fascinating listen: Non-Sherlockians getting to brush up against the Sherlockian world.

The first critique that most Sherlockians of a traditional bent have of 221B Con is that the con is not 100% Sherlock Holmes, or that the part that is 100% Sherlock Holmes is not 100% Conan Doyle. And the guys from Back Row Super Show, not being Sherlockians, picked the "Stephen Universe" panel for their first official hour of the con. (It's a cartoon about a boy who lives with magical beings, if you're wondering.) So they make excellent "test subjects" for looking at non-Sherlockians wandering into my favorite Sherlockian event. And a lot of non-Sherlockians wander into 221B Con, as Atlanta is a great place to sample cons.

As a person who has sampled cons for fandoms I'm not a part of, I recommend the practice. You discover that it isn't just Sherlockians who are at their best when they're in their element, and there's always something fun and fascinating to learn from taking such a plunge with an open mind.

The second panel the Back Row Super Show boys wandered into was the mysterious "ABO" panel, which they wander into blind, as I have in the past, and they actually find out what "Johnlock" is for the first time. Their reaction is kind of wonderful, as they are definitely not the demographic that ABO tends to go for. (In other words, they're boys.) But just as I did, they recognize a warm and welcoming group who enjoys explaining their Sherlockian specialty to others.

The 221B Con experiences of the Back Row Super Show guys provides a nice "alternate universe of attendance" for me, for as I've previously written, no single human can experience all of 221B Con's "five tracks at a time" programming. I wouldn't recommend their chat it to a hardcore Doyle Sherlockian, as they do like to pick the non-Sherlockian options in the schedule to discuss along with the Sherlockian, but they do really capture the feeling of the con.

A "Wakanda Forever" panel one hour, then a "Sherlock Holmes in Anime" panel next, and you get to hear how two non-Sherlockians enjoy Sherlockian content that intersects with their own interests.

One of them wanders into the "Drug Use During The Victorian Era" panel, as I did, and gets very into the topic on the podcast, talking about what he learned listening to Lyndsay Faye and Chris Zordan talk about Sherlock Holmes and drug use. It winds up being his favorite panel of the con, and the mix of education and entertainment that Lyndsay and Chris put together gets great reviews.

Playing the game "Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty's Web," eating out by the food truck and falling into conversation with strangers, "Watsons Through Time," the costume exhibition, Potterlock, Flavortown, karaoke with con familiars . . . it's a long podcast, but they cover a goodly chunk of the con.

As I listened to Back Row Super Show's episode on 221B Con, I couldn't help but think of that silly little argument on "who is a Sherlockian" that hit social media just before the con weekend. Trying to define who is a Sherlockian is a very selfish game if you think about it -- "Does this person know enough about Sherlock to be of interest to me?" It's a very defensive, gate-keeper position to me, one that says we have to keep the non-Sherlockians out lest they spoil our Sherlockian paradise. Here is definitely proof of the opposite happening.

The guys from Back Row Super Show might not have come to a strictly "all Doyle's Sherlock all day long" symposium day, as a lot of 221B Con attendees might not. But they didn't ruin 221B Con for anyone, not having read the full Canon, and their enthusiasm at hearing some Sherlockian subjects for the first time is indicative of one of the energizing aspects of the con for me. It's not only open to everyone, it allows attendees to help fill the program with subjects they love, even if it's not always Sherlock Holmes. Creating that atmosphere of enthusiasm actually adds energy to the panels that are about Sherlock Holmes, which are most of them, of course. And getting to listen in on a couple of non-Sherlockians in that atmosphere definitely proves the point.

There is a joy in seeing a non-Sherlockian become a Sherlockian, if even for an only hour or two.

Every Sherlockian event can't be 221B Con. It's a special weekend in a town that knows its fan cons. But it definitely shows the value of opening a Sherlockian door to the rest of the world, and loosening up our boundaries now and then.

Back Row Super Show rated 221B Con as an excellent con, and called out a lot of the joyous supportive nature and warm, inclusive, positive atmosphere of the con . . . and as with so many other first-time 221B Con attendees, they're coming back next year.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Throwing Sherlock out of my basement

Okay, a few words of preface.

I love Sherlock Holmes. A few days at that con I am trying to ease up on the mentions of (BUT IT WAS SO MUCH FUN!!) definitely did not dull my fervor.

But some days, you just need to get it all down to basics and try to bring a little order to the chaos that you call your home. So after sleepily doing a writing treadmill for an hour before breakfast, I charged up and charged down into my basement, that warehouse of wonders, that pit of despair, to do battle with the demons of accumulation and events past that live there.

It started simple enough, organizing gift bags, condensing shipping boxes, but at some point, I wandered down that alley in the back where The Big Display Items are stored.

I like big display items. They're especially fun at big events, so everyone can see your big point in a big manner. Unrolled movie posters live there, along with those fold-out display boards that seemingly came into existence with office supply store chains. And, boy did I go through a phase where I like to use those.

One giant panel seemed to exist just to show the Paget drawing of Holmes and Watson seeing John Clayton's cab on the street, with arrows pointing to John Clayton and Sherlock Holmes Number One and Sherlock Holmes Number Two. (It will be remembered that Stapleton passed himself off as Sherlock when riding in Clayton's cab.)

One great panel charted the number of times Holmes called Watson by name on a year-by-year basis, which is one of those things where I went, "Man, I spent a lot more time on research back in the day!"

There was one incredibly large poster of a very specific film Sherlock whom no one is excited enough about to hang an incredibly large poster of on their wall. There were other charters, graphs, a hereditary line drawn out . . . over-sized, pre-Powerpoint renderings for presentations that will never be done again. (Where do old presentations go to die? Maybe they got published somewhere.)

But at some point, practical purposes have to enter into the equation and you have to go, "Am I just keeping this here so someone else will have to throw it out when I can't?" So, sadly, one plays "taps" on an imaginary trumpet, condenses these monsters, and delivers them into the recycling, where perhaps their spirits will be passed on to some Sherlock Holmes pastiche printed on recycled paper.

Don't think I've gone too purge-happy yet. This guy below? He's still with me. He may retire to 221B Con or some other happier place one day, when he finds a big enough vehicle to ride in, but until then, I kind of like having him around.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Baker Elementary versus Baker Street Elementary

It's long past time that I mentioned Baker Street Elementary here, but as it's been getting some circulation on I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere, it probably hasn't needed the "Sherlock Peoria bump." On the road back from the oft-mentioned 221B Con, however, I discovered that our favorite "Sherlock and Watson as kids" comic now has some competition. Sort of.

Kid Sherlock, published by Action Lab, is written by Justin Philips and drawn by Sean Gregory Miller, and looks to be intended for younger audiences. Baker Street Elementary, written and drawn by Rusty Mason, written, edited, and created by Steve Mason, and also created by Joe Fay, is definitely intended for Sherlockian adult (or children with good vocabularies) audiences.

Kid Sherlock features a fairly small cast of characters compared to the long list of familiar names attending Baker Street Elementary. "Baker Elementary" is the school Kid Sherlock attends, in a class taught by Mrs. Hudson, who works for Principal Lestrade. Kid Sherlock's arch-nemesis is named "Kyle."

Things never get too intense in either comic, both being about school children, of course. (Although there is a one-page tale where Kid Sherlock seems to fall in love with Mrs. Hudson that had me going, "Wait . . . what?" for a second.) But Baker Street Elementary goes down some much more familiar paths and is particularly wry in moments, with 2017's "A Scandal in Casserole" being a good example of same.

Having spent the evening in grade school, however, I think I'm going to now have to wander off to a late-night spot of fanfic to get back to a proper adult age. Being a kid is great when you're a kid, but after that . . . give me adulthood any day. Comics, however, can go down an AU young Sherlock path anytime they like.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

A man in a story reads about Sherlock Holmes.

Upon returning home this week, I found a treat in my mailbox, a few contributor's copies of Athena Voltaire Pulp Tales, edited by Chris Murrin and illustrated by Steve Bryant. I'm lucky enough to be acquainted with Steve, the artist behind Athena, and some years back, he was nice enough to ask me to contribute a story to his planned collection. Enough time has passed since the tale's original writing that I had the joy of reading it with barely any memory of writing it, so I was doubly delighted to find my prose wasn't too bad and that the tale contained the following passage:

"Tonight Peter picked up The Sign of the Four, as he was itching to learn how old John Watson met his blonde wife Mary one more time. Dr. Watson was a worn-out bachelor in the book, much like Peter himself, and . . . ."

Well, I don't want to give away too much. Peter Mahr is a rather lonely lighthouse keeper, and he's about to get something more in the way of feminine company than he ever expected, both good and very, very bad.

It's the second time I've been asked to participate in a collection, asked by a friend before better known writers signed on. The previous time was The Baker Street Dozen, edited by Pj Doyle and E. W. McDiarmid, which eventually came to contain bits by Isaac Asimov and Dame Jean Conan Doyle. This time around, Athena Voltaire Pulp Tales has wound up featuring comic book writers like current Batman scribe Tom King and a writer whose work on comics like Supergirl and Teen Titans that I've read much of, Will Pfeifer. (So if you're about to start a collection of essays or stories, have no writers at present, but expect to get better known names by the time you're done, I'm your guy!)

Peter Blau once spoke of an author who managed to work Sherlock Holmes into everything he wrote at some point, and I think I was remembering Peter's words when I wrote "A Song in the Night" for Steve's collection. It's a pretty good idea, really, because a.) You get a nice surprise later, and b.) It give you an excuse to promote the book in a blog whose subject matter is supposed to be Sherlock Holmes.

So consider this my sneaky plug for Athena Voltaire Pulp Tales, edited by Chris Murrin and illustrated by Steve Bryant. Not saying it has enough Sherlockian content for your Sherlock Holmes collection, but if you're into pulp anyway, it's a chance to read the rare Keefauverian non-Sherlock prose.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Unpacking 221B Con

Well, if you're not sick of the words "221B Con" by now, it's probably because you were there.

Tonight, after a two-day journey home involving country music, my own personal Eurus and Mama Holmes, and far too much unhealthy eating, I finally walked in the door of home at about 8:30 P.M. Tuesday night and started dutifully unpacking the physical things of con.

Each of the things brought it's own moments back with it. An autographed web comic sheet. A belated book purchase from babes. A tea bag. A button. A hood ornament. The list goes on and on. I wore a tie. I never wear ties. Even the things I took down to Atlanta with me have come back with their own moments. It's good to have a little time to reflect once the weekend is all over, because in the mad whirl of it actually happening, one can never stop being distracted enough to step back and look at what it all those moments add up to.

"221B Con" might seem like just an easy name choice for a Sherlock Holmes convention, but what if, unbeknownst to most of us, it was actually the con's mission statement? Because it really is.

Think about 221B Baker Street for a moment, and what that iconic place was. Not just a home with a caring landlady who took eccentricity in stride . . . though 221B Con definitely is that. There are a whole lot of Mrs. Hudsons holding this con together, and I think it was definitely a sign from a Sherlockian God that Marilynne McKay came dressed as Mrs. Hudson for so many years. (Her Queen Elizabeth this year, however, was choice!)

221B Baker Street was also the place where John H. Watson met a man with a legion of seemingly unconnected interests and learned what all of those subjects made when you got to know him well enough to see what being Sherlock Holmes truly meant. 221B Con brings strangers together, shows you such diverse topics that might make you at first go "What does this have to do with anything?" like Watson first did with Holmes, and, in the end, can make you realize that you've made an unlikely friend who has enriched your life.

Clients came to 221B Baker Street to try to make sense of personal mysteries in their lives, to run their personal details through a great mind that can conceive of dozens of explanations for any set of facts, and in the end, return home having learned a truth or two. Also true of 221B Con? After six years of its existence and five years of attending, I have to say "yes."

One of the great heartbreaks of being a true blue Sherlockian will always be the fact that we can never actually visit 221B Baker Street and those beauties who lived there. But, let me tell you, 221B Con has this way of coming close, if you open up to it.

2018 was a good year for 221B Con. But then, they've all been good years so far. And I know I'm not the only Sherlockian who feels that way. And we'll never get tired of hearing those words, "221B Con." If you haven't been, look over the con's website and schedule and have the slightest glimmer of "This sounds like something I might like," I would encourage you to give it a try next year. It might just become your second favorite 221B, right behind that one where Sherlock and John actually lived.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

221B Con 2018: The final countdown.

There's seven hours of programming during the final day of 221B Con, and they're perhaps the most precious, because you know it'll all be over soon. After attending the 10 AM creativity pitfalls panel, I did some final shopping in the dealer's room, picking up a ship shirt and a hard-boiled Greg Lestrade shirt from Fox Estacado, hit the food truck for some late brunch, and then got down to business for the final five hours.  (It must be said that the 11 AM hour had some Three Patch Podcast being recorded, and as much as I love 'em, the key word there was "recorded," meaning I could catch it later.)

"Meet the John H. Watson Society" was next, and since the John H. Watson Society doesn't really have official gatherings, and I'm on my second year as a member now, it seemed a mandatory opportunity. Beth Gallego, the current head of the group, and Elinor Gray, the editor-in-chief of the Watsonian's journal were the panel for that one, and I had many questions to toss their way. The John H. Watson Society has been a fun society to watch as it evolved from the more traditional style of Sherlock scion society to something with fresh upgrades, and Beth and Elinor have been a good part of those upgrades from even before they were in their current positions with the group. Many in the crowd were interested in writing for the journal, and the subject of get-togethers for such a widely-spread-out society was also an attractive topic.

When the Watsonian hour was over, I dashed out to my car in the rain with last-minute hijinks in mind. One of the next hour's more attractive offerings was Elinor again on "Holmes in Retirement" with a focus on his beekeeping. And while I had prepared no cosplay outfits this trip, I had my car, and where I have my car, I also tend to have a beekeeper's regalia in the trunk. As a result, for Elinor's talk, I just quietly sat in the back, absorbing her bee lore as a beekeeper, covered in netted pith helmet, white labcoat, and cotton gloves that covered my forearms up to the elbow. Elinor is well up on her bees, and the costume may have helped me absorb just a wee bit more than I might otherwise have.

Since the food truck was still out on the veranda (or whatever that place was, covered so the rain didn't matter), I went out for a hot dog with tater tots and more Diet Dr. Pepper to get some caffeine in me for my final panel presentation, and had a lovely chat with a Portland Sherlockian. And then it was on to "Arthur Continuity Doyle."

At least one person would later tell me that "Arthur Continuity Doyle" was there favorite panel of the weekend, and if it ranked so highly in anyone's esteem, I will put that down to two factors. First, we had nice hand-outs, the little hand-sewn monograph-style booklets of Watsonian facts in a timeline (see below). And second, my partner in crime on this one was the quick-witted Lyndsay Faye. (See the internet.)

This was probably my favorite panel of the weekend too, as far as any I sat up front on, as Lyndsay is one of those bright lights that makes you all the brighter for her being there. The audience was up for playing along as well, and we bounced through Watsonian lore and legend with a lot of laughter and surprises out of left field. Lyndsay on "Final Problem"/"Empty House" is a particular hoot, and I'd recommend hearing her on that subject anytime she feels like going off on it. It was a really nice panel to serve as the last one of the day, before we got to the traditional "Our Last Bow."

"Our Last Bow" is the annual point where the five directors of 221B Con bravely sit up from of a hundred or two remaining con-goers and let us say whatever we want about the con -- good or bad. And they write things down. I had only one question, which I saved for after the official part, and that was "Where were all the complaining people?" This year's "Our Last Bow" was a virtual love-fest for both 221B Con and the hotel itself, which . . . let me tell you . . . this Atlanta Airport Marriott? Customer service like you wouldn't believe. Every hotel staff member I encountered was not only friendly, but seemed to actually like that we were here.

One point that did come up from the folks commenting on 221B Con was the genuine care with which it has been produced. I was suggested that since the directors are all female, there's more care-giving instincts to this con, and that may be true, but there's a lot to be said for the individual personalities that come together to run this thing every year. You can't create an atmosphere of acceptance and opportunity like this without genuinely good souls at the helm, and that they are. They care not just about some undefinable ideal called "Sherlockiana" or "fandom," but actual real people, and letting people bring their joy, whatever form it may take. It's still a Sherlock Holmes convention, and Sherlock is front and center. But a Guy Fieri moment or a McElroy brothers moment can be some fun within the fun, and add spice to the main dish. So with five sessions an hour, why not?

221B Con regulars are some pretty cool folks, as open to new ideas, alternative lifestyles, and just you-being-you as you can get. I've done this five out of the six years they've held it and never been disappointed.

And it's always a hard thing to leave. Which is now going to take a recovery evening before I head out in the morning.


221B Con 2018: One con among many.

A big point about 221B Con came up during one of last night's bar chats, as we talked about next year's con and our desires to be here again. And that point is this:

Even if you make it to Atlanta, start at the beginning and attend every panel you can until the last bow panel on Sunday . . . even if you manage to somehow get in food and sleep and cosplay and shopping the dealer's room and still get to something every single hour . . . even if you're a con godling and just amazing . . . here's the thing: There's still a 221B Con you will miss.

Until we invent time travel and you can cycle back to take a different path for your second, third, and fourth paths at the con, living alternate lives every time, you just have to accept that there will be a few regrets. There are many different cons going on here at once. You can go down a TV/movie path, a literary path, a party path, a conversational path, a creative path . . . just to name a few.

For my first Sunday panel, I'm going down a more writer/creative path for "Insecurity, Imposter Syndrome, and Other Creative Pitfalls." "What?" you might ask, "Where is the Sherlock Holmes part of that title?" Well, here's the thing: With so many opportunities to have panels at the con, some of them get to dig deep. Sherlockians write. Sherlockians draw. And Sherlockians have the same issues that any writers or artists have, so why not discuss them?

This panel is a great one for bringing up surface views versus reality, and one point they're hitting as I type here is how social media allows people to do that weird PR thing where their lives are all fancy dining out meals and happy hangouts with friends, all looking their best, as that's what they want to present to the world. Someone else, looking at just that internet facade, might then feel inadequate, get depressed, and not feel they're living up to their full potential as others are somehow doing.

For those of you who couldn't make 221B Con this year and feel like you're missing out, let me tell you -- I'm actually hear, having a really good time, getting some great moments, learning things, etc., and I still look at social media and go, "Man, I am just not keeping up!" (Or hear that Rusty Mason actually pulled an all-nighter and go, "Aw, more that I missed!"). When you're only one human being with one life, there's a hard limit on what you can do. Life is single-thread.

But the trick is enjoying your single thread wherever it takes you. And "This is the most supportive convention I've ever been to!" was just spoken at this panel, which is something I wanted to get to. I ran into a local on the first night of con who goes to a lot of Atlanta conventions, including the big one, Dragon Con, and he was telling me that this was his favorite of all of them. There's an atmosphere here that's all about supporting creativity. No gatekeeping. No "this is the way you have to do it." And a lot of honesty about how a fan's life can go.

Especially on a Sunday morning when we're all very worn, the folks who have to get back to work on Monday are leaving already, and we all start to feel how much we're going to miss this when it's over.


221B Con 2018: Saturday night lives.

There was a nap that had to be taken before Saturday night 221B Con could commence. And as, always happens for my rare bit of day-sleeping, I awoke hungry. Fortunately, I had planned a dinner meeting with my fellow Moriarty panelist Jen, and we struck out for a nearby Bojangles to dine on fast food fried chicken and get final details straight for our session.

We made it back with about ten minutes to spare, and our panel on "Moriarty's Network" had a pretty decent attendance for 7:00 P.M. on a Saturday night. We walked through all the pre-Reichenbach cases, looking for evidence of Moriarty's hand in each, and we'd definitely hit on a pattern beforehand of Moriarty's specialty being locating targets in England for overseas villains to work their evil upon, as he plainly did in The Valley of Fear. A lot of Canonical cases have similar plots, so why might they just be Moriarty plots?

But as we went along and the audience helped out, David McAllister being a particular stand-out in that area, it seemed there was a desire to connect Moriarty with everything. And we soon discovered it was just a matter of how far you were willing to take matters. Think Moriarty couldn't have been involved in the simple domestic fraud of "A Case of Identity?" Well, what if this older maths prof had asked out a young typist and gotten spurned? And said older prof was so spiteful over it that he commanded a younger hireling to marry the typist's mother and keep the typist from ever having a man in her life ever again by whatever means necessary?

Moriarty is just so evil. He seems to want to get into everything.

That panel done, I headed back to the room to drop things off before catching the next panel, but got called into the bar as I passed, for some congratulations on the panel and general Sherlockian inspirations for future panels. The bar is always a flytrap at 221B Con, so I missed the next hour of programming, but got myself free for the podcasting panel at 9:00.

Now up front, let me say this: I love my podcasting friends. They are wonderful and talented people and I have long been in awe of what they do. Which is kind of why I didn't really tell them that I was now doing a podcast, which, it seems is a mistake. (Note to self: forgot to talk to Beth about her podcast days. Do that tomorrow.) Much of my podcast insecurities got to be used as an example during the podcast panel, which was a little bit anxiety-causing in the moment, but great in the long term. Podcasters, at least on the 221B Con panel, are very, very encouraging . . . which is one big reason I ventured into that field with "Sherlock Holmes is Real."

I particularly remembered Tony Henderson from the "Geek Vs" podcast going on about how anyone with the urge should try it out last year, and he was glad to hear that his evangelizing had some results. Hope Mullinax from "Jaig Eyes and Jedi" gave good advice on dedication coming from doing what you loved. Finn from Three Patch had some great technical advice. And Amy from the Baker Street Babes counseled that you should really tell your friends you're doing a podcast, Brad. (As well as making a lot of other good points on guests and growing with your podcast.) (Also, didn't catch the name of the "Return to the Hellmouth" podcast panelist, but good words there to. Sorry, I'm exhausted, brain going again.)

Anyway, after absorbing all I could from my podcasting betters, I headed back to the hotel bar to relax and let Steve Mason tell me his lifelong dream Sherlock novel at length so I could then destroy it for him. (I am a monster, and things like podcast insecurities are all that keep me in check.) I'm really hoping he is invigorated by the opposition and redoubles his efforts to give it to the world.

Should I be writing any of these things for the internet? I don't know, it's now 1:00 AM and I should just pass out. My judgment is shot.  But, hey, having a great time here at ol' 221B Con. One of these days I'm going to do more than just poke my head in the karaoke party, and then you should be very afraid as the late-night judgment failure takes hold.


Saturday, April 14, 2018

221B Con 2018: A panel with blue latex gloves. And drugs.

If the fates and Three Patch are kind, you might have the chance to hear my last panel, and my participation on it, on a podcast eventually. The title? "Sherlock and John Aboard Serenity."

There have always been overlap between fans of Sherlock Holmes and fans of Star Trek, so it should not come as any surprise that there are more than a few fans of Sherlock Holmes and the short-lived Fox series Firefly. And at 221B Con, it's also no surprise that four panelists and a roomful of folks can gather to discuss both of those topics at the same time. And have the panel wear blue latex gloves. And have a River Tamm look-a-like in the front row.

I'm going to be a horrible reporter here and just promise to mention when and if that recording becomes available, since I was sitting on the panel and not a good self-reporter. So let me talk about "Drug Use in the Victorian Era" with Lyndsay Faye and Chris Zordan, which I wandered into thinking the bigger room would be the Atlanta Radio Theater Company (and by the type I found that room, it was near-full).

So what have I learned so far about drug use in the Victorian era? Chris says cocaine doesn't dissolve well enough to get 7% mixed with water without it looking like sugar in the bottom of a tea glass.

The battery on my laptop and the battery in my brain seem to both be hitting the recharge point. I swear I heard someone lightly snoring a moment ago, so maybe I'm not alone in this.

Lyndsay makes a point that the temperance/feminist movement coming out of women being tired of dealing with their alcoholic husbands. I look up nearby fast food restaurants on Google maps. I think Maslow's hierarchy of needs is starting to kick my ass with regard to my con-going skills. Hope I don't lose "shelter" or else I am seriously screwed.

The topic of Sherlockians who insist Sherlock Holmes didn't have a drug problem comes up, versus the fact he plainly had one as stated by Watson in the Canon. I get the feeling that these two have spoken on the subject before and gotten some blowback from Sherlockians somewhere before.

As with most panels, this one is a free-wheeling discussion of the topic, going from Conan Doyle's father to CBS's Elementary to recognizing addiction patterns in the Canon. Lots of thoughts that my weary brain definitely isn't fully appreciating, and my laptop battery life is getting concerning, so I sill adieu for the moment . . . .


221B Con 2018: HIgh noon, the hour of chaos.

Four panels at high noon today, I'm interested in all of them, but my stomach over-ruled me and it was food truck time. Chicken soft-tacos in that lovely grove where I blogged first thing this morning, then back into the con. Of course, it's con done Keefauver-style, which is a little off.

I was still fighting a bulbasaur in Pokemon Go as I headed into the "All Genders Welcome" restroom, picking the one with urinals. Stopped in the con lounge and noticed that the "Free books" table had dwindled a bit, so I headed out to the car for a banker's box of books a Peoria friend wanted me to disperse -- some real classic among them, but mostly pastiches.

On the way I ran into Gord Shriver at the Atlanta society table, chatted a bit, saw Taylor at the Baker Street Babes table next door and spend a bit on their wares, then dead-lifted that banker's box of books and hauled it the long walk in.

Did I mention the Civil Air Patrol was having meetings here too? They look rather serious about their Civil Air Patrol business, which makes for an interesting contrast to the fun and cosplay of the 221BConners.

When my chores are finally done, I slipped into the "Sherlock Holmes Webcomics: Baker Street Elementary" panel with the Masons, but get called out so my sneaking didn't. Still, got a signed copy of the con comic from Rusty, before heading out to see if I could find my fellow panel-mates for the Firefly Sherlock panel, but not before running into my panel-mate for the later Moriarty panel and arranging supper plans. And then there are the three other people I ran into, didn't have the time I would have liked to talk to and moved on.

And then in the bar discussion fan matters with my upcoming fellow panelists . . .


221B Con 2018: Morning coffeeshop and Babes recording

I was sitting in the "Coffeeshop AU" panel at 221B Con this morning and comparing it in my head to some of the sessions I recently attended at a more traditional Sherlockian venue. The big note resounding in my head was what an audience member came away from in each experience.

More traditional Sherlockian presentations are often a single speaker presenting their gathered research on some original Canon subject. In the more enjoyable ones, fun conclusions are drawn, and the abilities of the speaker can make or break the session. T'were coffee to be the subject of one of those, we would learn all sorts of delightful facts about Victorian coffee culture and walk away wiser and older on the matter. And, if you're a researching sort, maybe inspired to do some yourself.

A panel discussion on Sherlock and John and coffeeshops, like the one I just attended, is not as much about what does exist (which is there, for sure), but heavily about what could exist. Why do writers choose this particular genre? What opportunities does it offer for Holmes and Watson to interact? Ideas come quickly, new ideas, and you can't help but silently form your own as it goes on. When you come out of a good panel, it isn't what you now know, but what you now want to do. Now I want to write a coffeeshop AU.

I think I would define more traditional Sherlockian sessions as science and the kind 221B Con has brought into Sherlockiana as art. Not that either doesn't have some of the other -- Sherlockiana is everything.

And on to the Baker Street Babes interviewing Nancy Springer, author of the Enola Holmes series. I've read the first of her works before con and it's really good. I want to read more, and hearing Nancy talk is really cementing that desire. Not going to go into too much details here, as you really need to listen to the interview on the Babes own podcast.

Nancy Springer is full of origin stories and tips and tricks on her research and sources for her Enola Holmes stories. She's got a lot of very original smarts -- doing research from the most unexpected and wonderful sources. And since Lyndsay Faye is in on the interviewing, a little comparison of research comes up.  There's talk of Enola's character arc, and some great attitude on how the problems of Doyle's own screw ups and London being destroyed by Hitler really are helpful to a writer.

There is some real fun in this interview, including killing mammogram inventors by being crushed in their own machines. Nancy apparently has more Enola Holmes books already written and waiting for the potential Millie Bobby Brown movie market upsurge. Okay, out of respect for the Babes content (and my own laziness) I'm going to shut down my reportage for now, with a few added notes.

Nancy Springer is a great Sherlockian, though, which she'd have had to be to do so well with Enola. She brought foreign editions of her books to give out for free, and she's a funny and frank woman. Listen to the interview (and if you haven't figured out podcasts yet, get help and do so!).


221B Con 2018: Beautiful morning blog session

Lest one think that con life is all hotel function rooms, the hotel bar, and indoor air, this morning's post comes to you from a lovely green patio just outside the Marriott's entrance. The rumble of jets from the nearby airport is competing with the sounds of nature, but this is Georgia. Nature finds a way.

Last night's fannish burlesque show was, as always a burst of energy to cap off the first day of the con, with lots of hollering, clapping, and huge enthusiasm for all the performers. Acts touched on Harry Potter, Supernatural, Austin Powers, the Young Ones, The Magicians, and a grand finale of a gender-bent Holmes and Watson in turn ignoring and seducing each other. It's a tribute to the energy levels of con attendees that there is actually a dance party and more after this 10-11:30 bit, but I rarely make those.

As it was, the 6:30 AM amber alert that blasted out of every cell phone at the hotel did no one any favors, I'm sure. I'm still a little bit groggy from that one, and I hope it doesn't limit me today -- the big day of the con. Last night I got to meet Nancy Springer, the author of the Enola Holmes series, and will be interested in hearing her speak, as well as con regular Lyndsay Faye, whose next book is eagerly awaited. But the big name guests aren't the true draw of this con, and all the other voices are much anticipated as well.

Next stop, however, is the dealer's room, which I completely missed on Friday night. That's a rare event, mostly due to Howard Ostrum not being here this year, as helping him set-up and visiting Howard were the reason for most of my trips there. (The cash runs out quickly, as far as visiting for proper dealer purposes goes.) There's always stuff there one finds at no other Sherlockian venue, so it should be fun. But for now, a few more pleasant moments among the jets and nature . . . .


Friday, April 13, 2018

221B Con 2018: Fanon: What is wrong with us?

Fanon is one of those organic things that has been growing in Sherlockian culture before we even had a name for it. Sherlock Holmes's birthday. The hiatus romance between Irene and Sherlock. Anything you can think of that's not from Doyle yet is commonly accepted among Sherlockians. BBC Sherlock brought with it some really curious common knowledges of fanon, with Red Pants Monday being one of the most common ones that I know of. So it came as no particular hardship when I agreed to report on the "Fanon: What's wrong with us?" panel for a certain absent Sherlockian who is, sadly, missing out.

This panel is both well-attended and short of panelists, only having one of the panelists show up ("Rabidsamfan").

She's focusing on Baring-Gould's contributions to the non-Canonical lore for her intro, and then, as an example, is discussing a Western romance novel with a character named Escott who is plainly Sherlock Holmes during his great hiatus. (Forgiven me for missing the name of the book. I should have noted it.)

Is the famous tent joke "fanon?" I suppose it is at this point, but it's brought into the discussion.

Jam Watson comes up from a Kate Beeton comic where a replacement Watson just loves jam. And on to Watson's red underwear (the source of Red Pants Monday) next, which gets a big laugh. A few more examples, and the floor is opened up to other favorites:

"One thousand Watsons walk into a bar."

Sherrinford being brought into things.

Toby, being Canonical and yet showing up in many ways: Lestrade's dog, the poisoned bull pup.

A reason for the Canon being so much fun: "There are generations of us trying to make it make sense."

(Side note: Not hearing anything that's "wrong with us" yet, but if being madly Sherlockian is wrong, I don't know what right is any more.)

(Second side note: If you sit near the wall, you hear the panel next door. The "Rare Pairs" panel is laughing a whole lot!)

The conversation has expanded a bit from true fanon to variations and additions coming into the characters from pastiche sources. Holmes and Watson's various relationships with women.

"Dark Watson" comes up as a fanon evolution that came after the Ritchie films, and then the BBC Sherlock, a Watson who was changed by war. ("Dom John" also gets a mention.)

The tantalus at 221B Baker Street being non-Canonical throws me and I actually had to do a search -- there is a "spirit case" with the Canonical gasogene, and a tantalus on Black Peter's sea chest. Hmm. I blame the BSI "Buy-laws."

Okay, there are some more digressions through varies stories going on, but I'm going to shut this down early as the burlesque show is coming up next and . . . well, burlesque show.


221B Con 2018: Sherlockian societies with Steve and Chris

Some topics regarding Sherlock Holmes are those I know too well, but still quest to find more info on. One of these is the Sherlockian society. Having ridden out a local Holmes group going on life support, what makes a society tick, what keeps one alive, is pretty key.

Steve Mason and Chris Zordan are the experts holding forth on this subject, and the first really important point Chris is making is that it takes at least two people to run a Sherlock Holmes society. His view is mostly based on division of duties, but what I've observed over the years is that it takes at least two strong Sherlockians to run a society because the core members of a group have to play off each other, inspire each other, and generally bounce the ball back and forth. One person by themselves can organize and run and do all the jobs of starting a society, but unless that one person is apt to burn out without at least a partner to bolster their spirits.

But enough of my thoughts, back to the panel. Good question from Jen Liang on the naming of a society -- the old school Canonical reference style of naming doesn't draw from the outside world. Putting "Sherlock Holmes" and your city name together, as in key words for a website, is the best advice there. And the discussion heads on to regularity of a group's meeting.

Same place, same time of the month, same routine?  Seems to work for some groups and not others.

Tim Johnson is live-Tweeting this panel and I can hear the TARDIS on the other side of the wall doing its thing, so the mind is definitely wandering a bit as they discuss restaurants as meeting venues. It's an important consideration for holding a Sherlockian event, but one that depends a lot upon your locale and membership.

Finding hidden talents within your group is a wonderful point -- Sherlockians have some very diverse interests and letting people bring in what they love that's tied to the Canon is something that never fails.

On to my way to the Diogenes Club meet-n-greet, as it's my birthday present to myself this year was a lifetime membership to this lovely con. Onward!

221B Con 2018: The first panel on my list

Okay, thanks to the new hotel and better internet connection, it's the return of Sherlock Peoria liveblogging 221B Con. First stop "Movie Story Spinners with Sherlock and John!" Recommended to me as something my little movie-loving heart would go for. The panel's star member is AWOL with a migraine, so it's a little impromptu, but that's kind of what this one was going to be -- lots of audience participlation.

The difference between a crossover and a fusion: A fusion melds Holmes and Watson in as current characters, a crossover actually has them enter that universe. In any case, it's like our two favorite characters are invading every other universe, as they do in fic.

Say you like the TV show Magnum P.I.?  Holmes is Magnum, Higgins is Mycroft, T.C. is Watson?

Fast and the Furious? Dom is Sherlock, Brian is Watson.

The Room . . . ? Oh, now we're going at a pace that I can't even keep up with, and it's too hysterical.

Lestrade and Molly as Mulder and Scully investigating Sherlock's powers? Apparently that's out there as a fic.

Three's Company with John and Sherlock as Janet and Chrissy? Yes, we're gravitating toward TV, but that's an easy common character language. So much creativity going on here. Playing out familiar scenarios with Holmes and Watson is a really great way to both explore and appreciate them, and that's the real joy of any Sherlockian gathering, just the raw appreciation that exudes from a topic people get worked up about, and that's here.

Now we're rolling through Anne Rice, Pump Up The Volume, and Heathers, in reverse order. With Sherlock only having four seasons and the Canon having only sixty tales, appropriating some of this stuff for Sherlockian tweaks is a fun and easy way to whip out visions of stories that could spark further development. 221B Con is always inspiring, and this is a real jump-start on getting the mental gears turning.

There were five panels scheduled for this hour, and I wandered in to the "Janeite Sherlockians" panel to give my excuses for not attending that one after Amy Thomas tried to shout me in. (My Jane Austen knowledge is all movie-based.) The other three choices were costuming, Joan Watson's fashions, and a non-Sherlockian cartoon panel -- with five tracks, having one that has nothing at all to do with Sherlock Holmes is just fine. As this crossover/fusion panel is well demonstrating, exciting ideas can come from all sorts of places and just add more energy to the whole.

Okay, going to stop blogging this one and just enjoy the rest of the panel! Onward!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The multiverse of fates for chestnut hair

A morning tweet from Christopher Redmond has added a new layer of mystery to Violet Hunter's troubles in "Copper Beeches," that is a hard puzzle to resist:

"I had, as you know, cut off my hair in London, and I had placed it in a great coil at the bottom of my trunk." Violet states, and then goes to explain how she was checking out the drawers in her room at the house known as Copper Beeches, and in a bottom drawer finds "There was only on thing in it, but I am sure that you would never guess what it was. It was my coil of hair."

"With trembling hands," she continues, "I undid my trunk, turned out the contents, and drew from the bottom my own hair. I laid the two tresses together, and I assure you that they were identical. Was it not extraordinary?"

Two coils of hair, both "a peculiar tint of chestnut," one returned to the locked drawer in Violet Hunter's bedroom, the other presumably returned to her trunk. But what, as Chris wonders, became of them after?

"I have devised seven separate explanations, each of which would cover the facts as far as we know them," Sherlock Holmes said of the "Copper Beeches" affair. It would seem only fitting to do likewise with the mystery of Violet Hunter and Alice Rucastle's twin coils of hair. So, on to the devising . . .

1. Violet Hunter kept hers as a memento forever. Mrs. Rucastle kept her daughter's as a memento forever.

2. Mrs. Rucastle never took Alice's hair out of the drawer and eventually the chest of drawers was inherited by Alice's brother, who had similar hair, which fell out as he aged. Having discovered and saved his sister's hair years before and wisely saved it, he made a toupee for himself.

3. Violet Hunter retrieved Alice's hair when she went for her trunk, took both with her to Walsall, made wigs of both, which were then used when the students at her private school there wanted to play twins in the school play.

4. Sherlock Holmes requested both as mementos as they parted ways with Violet Hunter, made wigs himself, and he and Watson would sit around Baker Street playing twin girls and speaking in falsetto voices.

5. Mary Morstan acquired both and added them to her "coils of luxuriant hair" collection, mentioned in The Sign of Four. (Watson's description never said the hair was on her head.)

6. Charles Augustus Milverton acquired both through nefarious means to add extra hair to the pair of chestnut horses that pulled his stately carriage. Having human hair on your horses was the height of evil luxury, and CAM liked his evil luxury.

7. Alice Rucastle-Fowler returned to Copper Beeches years later, broke into the house, fought off the occupants with martial arts learned on the isle of Mauritius, took her hair out of the drawer, held it high and went "YES!" then returned to her life on the island paradise after convincing Violet Hunter to leave Walsall. Then they both sat on the Mauritius beach together drinking fancy cocktails, wearing their hair coils as crowns, noting that the sand on that particular beach looked coppery in the sun, and making a joke about that, just before the camera pulls back in a lovely helicopter shot and the credits roll. (What, you didn't know this theory was the movie adaptation? Of course, it is.)

I suppose if I were Sherlock Holmes, I would start eliminating the impossible or something like that here, but I just really like that beach ending. (Even better than the Baker Street "wigs and falsettos" nights, surprisingly.) Have any thoughts of you own on the fate of the hair? Too late for a 221B Con panel on it, but if you run into me there, we can discuss.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Doyle didn't write the best Sherlock? What?

Had a good comment from John Foster this morning, well worth bringing forward into the main blog. John was referring to an earlier comment from Robert Perret who wrote: "Many of the best Sherlock Holmes stories didn't come from ACD's pen," and said "I'm really surprised you didn't go anywhere with that one, Brad."

Well, here I go, and I'm killing good 221B Con packing time to do it, so I guess I do have something to say.

When it comes to modern readers, I really don't see Robert's statement as blasphemous. Doyle's prose is 100% Victorian era and takes some intermediary fiction for many of us to step up to that table. And pastiches, as horrible as some of them might be, help us take that step. Of that, I am as certain as certain can be.

I know this because I myself didn't click with Doyle at first read. "Speckled Band" was in our eighth grade literature book, and I wasn't any more impressed with it than "The Most Dangerous Game" or "The Rocking Horse Winner" or "The Ransom of Red Chief." In fact, I think I liked some of those better. Sherlock Holmes didn't really just jump out from a single short story.

It wasn't until the post-Seven-Per-Cent Solution boom, when pastiches filled the bookshelves, that I really got into Sherlock Holmes. And how did I get there?

I was reading a lot of character crossover fiction. Peoria author Phil Farmer's Riverworld was a mandatory read around here, and The Other Log of Phileas Fogg came after that. Soon after, I was on to Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds. And I loved it.

You know how many people actively hate Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds? Tons. I probably would even hate it if I re-read it now. And I followed it with The Earthquake Machine and Hellbirds, which I hear even their own author isn't exactly proud of in his later years. But I loved those too. Because Sherlock Holmes is a great character who transcends Doyle's original material. There's a reason that writers who aren't exactly Conan Doyle use Sherlock, and it's because they know readers will know who he is without a skillful exposition. (And they love him too, most times.)

And after all that, I finally went back and read Conan Doyle, in order. A Study in Scarlet is a much better introduction to Sherlock than "Speckled Band," because that's what it was written as. Even The Sign of Four spends a lot of time introducing us to this marvelous character.  But some of us definitely need an on-ramp to get up to that interstate of Doyle.

Which is why even the much-maligned fan fiction has produced a whole lot of stories that are a better introduction to Sherlock Holmes for modern readers than Conan Doyle. The point that Robert Perret was making when he answered the question of "How many Doyle stories do you have to read to be a Sherlockian?" with "zero" in that original comment was that Sherlock Holmes has become so much more than just a character in sixty stories. Consider this . . .

If you imagine someone who somehow had read every single non-Doyle novel and short story of Sherlock Holmes, seen every single movie, but NEVER read Conan Doyle, would you deny that that person was a Sherlock Holmes fan, after all that time and devotion? Would you withold the title "Sherlockian" and think they had nothing to contribute to any Sherlock Holmes group in the world? I hope not. That person would be a great Sherlockian with knowledge I'd want to see in books and scholarly works of their own.

Sherlock Holmes is a legend. A cultural icon. So much more than just a literary character, even though those are his origins. And it's good to know the origins, that "Elementary, my dear Watson!" didn't get said and the calabash pipe didn't get smoked. But those facts aren't the keys to the kingdom, along with any other specific hoops. There are keys to the Sherlockian kingdom laying around all over the place.

Even in Sherlock Holmes's War of the Worlds. Yeah, it's not the best-looking key, but it opened the door for at least one of us. (Along with that Loch Ness monster in the Private Life preview, of course. Can't have too simple of a Sherlockian origin story.) The word "best" can take on different meanings for different purposes. So when it comes to the "best" Sherlock Holmes stories, I'm going to have to go with Robert. For a whole lot of people, their personal best may never even come close to Sherlock Holmes. (And it might even be an episode of Elementary. Frightening how much I'm looking forward to that show's return.)

Onward to 221B Con!

Monday, April 9, 2018

The New Sherlockian

If I use the words "the new Sherlockian," what comes to mind?

Some wide-eyed neophyte, grinning in the first wash of truly understanding how great Sherlock Holmes really is? Perhaps some Sherlock Holmes fan who is making first contact with the established Sherlockian world at an event or meet-up? A novice student of Sherlockian lore, eager to be shepherded at the knee of a grand mentor of the hobby?

There is a meaning to the phrase "the new Sherlockian" that isn't any of those, and one that doesn't get considered too often when the established sets out to recruit the up-and-coming.

The new Sherlockian isn't just the larval stage of Sherlockians that already exist. The new Sherlockian can also be exactly what the words mean when applied to any other frame of reference . . . a new car, a new phone, a new computer . . . it can also mean the upgraded version.

Sherlockian 10.0. (Oh, we are long past the "2.0" models. Loooonnnggg past.)

I was struck by this though this weekend when the hashtag "#IAmASherlockian" started becoming more and more popular on Twitter. It wasn't exactly trending, as actually trending numbers go, but for Sherlockiana, it was hitting a pretty good level. Started by the Baker Street Babes, it definitely stood out as a Sherlockian behavior that didn't exist in previous generations. Calling out to the internet for a few words from Sherlockians worldwide to share their origins together, showing the full bloom of diversity that exists within this Holmes-centered sphere, and just letting it happen. No controls over what would result, just a well-worded call using a technique that is now a standard tool in our communication worksack.

It was a tool of the new Sherlockian. Not someone who wasn't an expert in our field. Just someone who evolved in a world of new ways of being a Sherlockian.

A new kind of Sherlockian.

Not that there's anything wrong with being an old, reliable model, with proven performance and not too many surprises. Those get the job done. But being in that category myself, I can't help but have a great appreciation for the newer versions in the showroom, that have gadgets and abilities and ways of making things happen that weren't even a thought in decades past . . . even if it is a little mind-boggling at times to try to wrap the brain around what's going on.

One could look at it as generational, but it's really more than that. Even in a single generation we get all sort of new Sherlockian talents, different from others in their same age and demographic. So many people bringing something new to the big ol' Sherlockian table.

Expecting some of that this coming weekend, if you haven't picked up on that yet. New Sherlockians who aren't necessarily new to Sherlock, but bringing something new to Sherlockiana.

New Sherlockians.

Always glad to see them.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The "oria" connection.

The doomed ship Gloria Scott. Professor of crime Moriarty. A blog entitled "Sherlock Peoria."

What do these three things have tying them together other than the sequence of letters O-R-I-A?

Well, the writer of said blog is on the "Moriarty's Web" panel for 221B Con, and has been tasked with scanning several of Sherlock Holmes's cases for Moriartian influence. And the first one on the list is "The Gloria Scott."

"But the bad ship Gloria Scott went down in 1855," you protest, after checking the date. "Moriarty wasn't active until the 1880s!"

Or so he would like you to believe!

Perhaps the most famous convict imprisoned on the prison transport was the ingenious con artist Jack Prendergast, whose crimes got much worse when he let himself go. Prendergast was one of the first truly magnificent criminals that Sherlock Holmes ever heard of, even before he decided to become a detective, even before he took up his study of the entire history of crime. The career of Jack Prendergast was surely one of the first subjects Holmes took up for his study.

Is it any coincidence then, that an early case in Holmes's career found him clearing the name of a Major Prendergast, who was accused of cheating at the Tankerville Card Club? It would make sense that Holmes wanted to speak to any living relatives of a man like Jack Prendergast, and once that connection was made, help with a little injustice. And while we know that Major Prendergast wasn't a card cheat who belonged to the Tankerville, we also know one member of that same club who was a card cheat: a fellow named Sebastian Moran. "The second most dangerous man in London."

We know Holmes cleared the major of cheating, but we don't know if Holmes was able to expose the true cheat at that time . . . who very well could have been Moran himself, Professor Moriarty's chief of staff. We know Moran retired from the military before 1881, when he published his first book -- writing books takes the sort of time military duties preclude. Holmes says Moran "retired, came to London, and again acquired an evil name." Holmes even connected Moran to an 1887 murder, and may have been aware of the colonel well before he knew of Moriarty, thanks to that "evil name" notoriety Moran had so soon after coming back to London.

It may be a slight generalization to say that belonging to clubs can be a family affair, as fathers pass on their hobbies to sons, and an important member eases the entry of his offspring, especially in the Victorian era. But when one sees a club like the Tankerville tied to names like Prendergast and Moran, one starts to wonder if it doesn't have certain tendencies among the membership. And possibly the sort of tendencies that would have been of interest for a man like Sherlock Holmes to keep an eye on.

A direct connection between Jack Prendergast and James Moriarty might be too much to hope for, but it is very suspicious that a crewman from the Gloria Scott, who were all Prendergast's "specially picked" ruffians, had the resources to track down two of that ship's name-changed escapees . . . Moriarty-level resources, one might say. There are threads there that are just too brightly colored not to follow.

Am I giving away too much of what's to come at 221B Con's "Moriarty's Web" panel?

No, this is just the first story on my list and the connection far too tenuous to spend a quarter of the panel's allotted time going into its details. But the strands of Moriarty's web are there all the same. Who knows where else they might show up? You'll have to drop by the panel and find out.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

My ego worries about who's a Sherlockian!

Normally, I don't like writing on the same topic for two days in a row, but my brain suddenly decided it wanted to dig a little deeper on this "Who is a Sherlockian?" question that comes up from time to time. As in, why do we ask that question?

It's not like going to the baker, the mechanic, or some other provider of a service. It's not like your copy of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes breaks and you need a skilled Sherlockian to fix it. And what is a skilled Sherlockian anyway? My old friend Don Hobbs used to raise that question of himself every now and then in his blog: Am I a good Sherlockian? It's a question that has so many possible sorts of answers and no true governmental licensing requirement, and who really cares except for someone who calls themselves "Sherlockian."

Which makes you then start to wonder: Why is it so important to some people that we don't call other people Sherlockians who don't measure up to their internal standards, as basic-seeming as they might be? If my neighbor walks in and says, "Hey, I'm a Sherlockian! I just watched the first episode of Elementary!" what is that impulse that rises up and makes me want to go "No, you're not."

It's my ego, of course. The part of me that holds my Sherlockian life so dear to my personal identity that accepting my ultra-newbie neighbor as a Sherlockian feels like an insult to the over forty years and long hours I've spent pondering the finer points of Sherlock Holmes. But it just feels like an insult. It isn't harming anyone, isn't causing anyone harm. I'd have been much more upset if my neighbor walked in and hit me with a two-by-four, because that could cause some real and lasting damage to my quality of life.

At least four million people watch CBS's Elementary every week, a show many call Sherlock-in-name-only. Most of them probably have never read Conan Doyle, and that show has little to do with Doyle's original works, if one is being objective and honest about it. But I know at least one Sherlockian whose qualifications as a Sherlockian are unquestionable, and he loves that show. Considers the main character as real a Sherlock Holmes as Jeremy Brett in a straight adaptation with Sidney-Paget-reproducing camera shots. If I'm going to consider my neighbor a non-Sherlockian for getting into his first episode of Elementary to an "I'm a Sherlockian!" level, am I going to deduct Sherlockian points from a master Sherlockian with a fetish for Jonny Lee Miller's Holmes?

No. Because it doesn't matter. CBS isn't replacing ACD as the world's primary source of what Sherlock Holmes is. Like Fox News, playing up the fear factor in non-stories to frighten old people, I myself will admit to raising the threat-level on Elementary during that first season just for fun (and to annoy at least one person in particular), but Sherlock Holmes is a hard man to actually threaten.

BBC Sherlock fans are not going to destroy Sherlockian culture any more than Solar Pons fans, Jeremy Brett fans, or Mary Russell fans did in the past if we allow that they're Sherlockians, too. They add to the whole without taking anything away from the core.

Sherlockians write. Sherlockians draw. Sherlockians smoke cigars and think that's a Sherlockian thing to do. We don't have to do any particular thing to be a Sherlockian, or cause anyone harm by representing ourselves as a Sherlockian without a particular level of skills, so why is it so important who we call a Sherlockian and who we don't?

In the end, I think when the impulse comes to look at another person and judge whether or not they're a Sherlockian, the best response is to look inside ourselves and go "Why does that matter so much to me?" And if you can find a good answer, a specific issue that causes you concern, maybe deal with that issue.

If I think my just-started-Elementary neighbor lacks having read Doyle and hand him a copy of The Complete Sherlock Holmes with a cheery, "If you're a Sherlockian, you'll love this!" . . . well, maybe we get the next guy who does an annotated edition, or the next great Holmes artist.  If I go, "Fuck you, you're not a Sherlockian!" . . . we get nothing.

Being a Sherlockian is pretty easy, actually. Being a good Sherlockian is very hard, and after forty-plus years, I'm still trying to work that one out. Making your ego feel better always reaps higher rewards from improving yourself than attempting to lower the status of others, and if you're secure in your own accomplishments, it really doesn't matter where anyone else is in the Sherlockian spectrum.

Elementary is coming back soon. Best keep an eye on me and remember all of the above, as I may need a lesson or two from my April 7, 2018 self.

Friday, April 6, 2018

How many stories *do* you have to read?

Someone tested Sherlockian social media a couple of days ago with a statement that was practically designed in an internet troll laboratory for maximum reverb. In case you missed it, it went something like this: "While I am a Sherlock Holmes fan, I have never read the Doyle Canon . . ."

As expected, it raised a bit of hue and cry, but as questioning of bona fides came in, I found myself wondering about it from a more practical standpoint.

Suppose you hadn't read any of the original sixty Sherlock Holmes stories. You saw a couple of movies, felt you could really get into this guy, even went to a local meet-up of whatever sort, just to see what these Sherlockians were like. When do you get to call yourself a Sherlockian?

I mean, you read A Study in Scarlet. You think, hey, I love this Sherlock Holmes even more than I did in the movies. I want to read more!

Can you call yourself a Sherlockian yet?

You read The Sign of Four. Still loving Sherlock, definitely going to read as much as you can of this guy!

Now can you call yourself a Sherlockian?

Here is where it gets hard. You go out and buy The Complete Sherlock Holmes. The whole kit and kaboodle in one fat volume. You look and the index and go, "Oh! Only fifty-eight more to go!" And being a moderating sort, you ration yourself to a reasonable rate of one story a month. You get to enjoy prime original Sherlock Holmes for almost five more years. Slow savoring.

At what point in that year do you earn the title of "Sherlockian?" Have the Baker Street Irregulars published a guide to how many you have to read to earn the title? Is there a certification test from a local scion you can take? If you just make it through the really good stories, in Adventures and Memoirs, and get The Hound of the Baskervilles and "Empty House" in for important references, can you fake it enough to satisfy other Sherlockians if you don't mention that you're not complete?

Personally, I'm pretty much okay with that last person. We can chat for quite a while and Professor Presbury doesn't really need to come up. I'll pull out my rubber stamp and *whomp* stamp "SHERLOCKIAN" in red on their forehead. (Of course, if I don't think you'll chase me down for a whuppin', I might just do that for fun anyway.) (Hmm . . . still time to get a rubber stamp that says "SHERLOCKIAN" for 221B Con?) But your mileage may vary. We do like completeness. On the other hand, A Study in Scarlet and The Sign of the Four do lay Holmes out pretty clearly by themselves.

Maybe it's just my lazy-enabling brain that wonders what the lower bar is for making "Sherlockian," but a sixty character Canon lends itself to numerical scale. Not that I haven't read all the stories at this point, but . . . one wonders.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Tribes of Sherlock?

We hear a lot about tribalism of late, as some political factions appear to have taken on the blind devotion of football fans who back their local team despite its current performance. Instead of taking things one issue at a time, some folks just lazily follow the team colors, making just one ridiculously large choice than many a smaller one.

But the downside of viewing everything through a tribalism lens is that if you're not in column "A," then you must be in column "B." I've never felt Sherlockiana as a very tribal community, even when I've disagreed with certain practices of certain management factions within the hobby. The Sherlock Holmes Society of London and the Baker Street Irregulars of New York don't look at each other as rivals. Chicago's multiple scion societies don't have turf wars for regional supremacy. Every part of Sherlockiana is generally looked upon as just more riches for all of us.

Except, apparently, when you don't like someone else's TV show.

Elementary is about to start up again this month, and its star, Jonny Lee Miller, is saying it's going to be their best season ever. And I really hope he's right. Really. Because, in my personal point of view, the show has suffered from some weak stories in the past, especially when compared to the source material or the current level of writing on the wide spectrum of television across the cable channels and streaming services out there.

In the eyes of a few, however, the last part of that paragraph means I surely must be a dedicated member of Team BBC Sherlock, and am criticizing Elementary for no other reason. Rather than making a proud declaration of a love for Elementary and singing its praises, a straw battle between an imagined Team Sherlock and Team Elementary is built, and the volleys against the wicked foe begin.

We don't do this with movies, as there have been far too many to play the "either this or that" game.

You can enjoy Downey without having to enjoy Hagman. Hating Rupert Everett does not mean you love Edward Woodward, or vice versa. You can feel that Matt Frewer doesn't live up to your ideal Sherlock yet still have an unexplained fetish for his movies. I feel like people made a half-hearted attempt to do Rathbone versus Brett at one point, but nobody wanted to go too hard down that road when someone inevitably brought up Cushing, Richardson, Baker, Plummer, Moore, etc., etc.

This year, maybe things will be different in TV viewer land. Sherlock grows smaller in the rear-view mirror, and Elementary gets a full summer season to prove its worth. Younger brother syndrome can be hard to shake, though, even when the sibling has left the house and moved away, but if it's going to happen, this is the season for it.

So let's see what happens. I know that with older brother out of the house, I'm going to be paying a bit more attention to the remaining video offspring without thinking of . . . who was that, again?

But just in case anyone needs it, I have definitely raised my flag for Team Sherlock Gnomes, for no other reason than, well, someone had to. Feel free to fling the tomatoes.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

John Watson, male author, on the ladies

Of late, I've been seeing a Twitter challenge being bandied about by the female side of the gender spectrum, and it goes like this: "Describe yourself like a male author would."

What follows in each answer to that challenge is a bit of straw man authorship that brings out the worst of what each writer sees in a man's view of a woman. And, sometimes, some self-inflicted insults that are not at all well deserved. Our culture works hard to make women think they are less admirable than they actually are.

But where this gets off-track to me most is when it's coming from a Sherlockian who seems to have momentarily forgotten a particular male author: John H. Watson.

Describe yourself as John H. Watson would.

What words come to mind?

Well, I can think of a few that won't. Watson never really came across as a "certain body part" man. And he did have that "quick eye for colour" that Holmes remarked on in "A Case of Identity."

Miss Mary Sutherland is an interesting case, as Watson spends a lot of time on her. He compares her to a "full-sailed merchant-man behind a tiny pilot boat" as she comes in behind the boy in buttons. He writes of her "broad, good-humoured face," a face he later calls "somewhat vacuous." Watson gets into the details of her hat, her jacket, her gloves, her earrings, but not her boots . . . interestingly, Watson keeps all him comments above the waistline.

Take another lady, one we know Watson was completely attracted to, and look at what he writes about her. Composure is his first comment. Blonde comes next, young after that. Small and dainty next. Kind of typical male stuff in that series, true. (She just had to be blonde, didn't she? Urg.) But then Watson rolls into fashion judgements for a bit before getting to her face, "sweet and amiable," and her big blue eyes. At which point Watson's words start showing us he's sweet on her.

Somewhere in between Mary Sutherland and Mary Morstan is how Watson described most of the women he encountered. Was his writing tempered by the fact that he knew most of the ladies would one day read his words, and he wasn't making up fictional characters? Well, there is the little matter of Watson's agent, who had no such compunctions.

There are definitely some pretty shabby male writers out there. Some shabby female ones, too. And they need to be called out when they cross the lines. But before we go lumping everyone into the same pile of trash, sometimes we also need to step back and remember the good ones.

And maybe ponder how John H. Watson would describe us, walking into 221B, no matter what our gender situation.

Watson and the media

We always like to think that our current race of humans is completely new and completely different. Spend much time in history, however, and often a situation you consider unique to us is just old human foibles with a new coat of paint. Sherlock Holmes himself admitted it in his studies of the history of crime, saying more than once that everything he faced was similar to crimes past.

So when one comes to our modern media crises -- yellow journalism, manipulation of news outlets by their wealthy owners -- the world has definitely been here before. And how best to deal with such troubles? Well, in this case, I'm going to advocate following not Sherlock's lead, but John H. Watson's. Emulating Holmes can seem a high bar, so let's take it easy and for his more-like-most-of-us pal.

Chapter six of A Study in Scarlet begins with Watson summarizing some of the accounts of the case from the local papers. The Daily Telegraph is pushing an anti-foreigner, conspiracy-laden angle. The Standard is blaming liberals. The Daily News politicizes the case by laying it on European governments mistreatment of their citizenry. Every news outlet is blaming some other guy than the one they support, as well as praising Lestrade and Gregson for some peculiar reason, considering they hadn't solved the case yet.

As Holmes and Watson know the true facts of the matter, they're especially amused by the varied accounts, but important point not to be missed here is that they read ALL the accounts. Even though they knew the story as well as any reporter, they still read all the newspapers at their disposal to see if any fact might have gotten by them. Even as they saw the slanted focus of each individual source, they still scanned through all of them to see if anything useful could be found in any one of them.

A Study in Scarlet is definitely not the last time we see the residents of 221B Baker Street consuming multiple news sources, and using their own critical thinking skills to digest what's coming in on those channels. It's a part of what has always made Sherlock Holmes eternally relevant: his search for facts before theorizing, his attempts to keep personal bias from looking hard at obvious truths. And, as we see in A Study in Scarlet, Holmes wasn't the only one who applied such judgement to what he took in. Watson was cognizant of that need as well.

When you see some of the blatant media manipulations going on today, as some sources tell us not to believe other sources while they themselves behave in ways showing them as untrustworthy, it's important to look at our friends in the Canon and realize that we aren't the first, nor will we be the last, who have to deal with sources that require a little thought on our part.

Some battles are going to have to be fought as long as humans are humans, and we're lucky to have Holmes and Watson to give us a few clues there.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Every day is April Fool's Day for Sherlock Holmes

Well, you made it through March. The random weather hardships coming with the advent of spring social obligations. Life in general gearing up. And then some wag in your friends or family attempt to pull a con on you for their own amusement. "April fools!" comes the post-action battle cry.

As the tradition can be seen going back as far as the 1500s, it is without a doubt that some awful pranksters were pulling their shams in Sherlock Holmes's day. But we never see Sherlock Holmes celebrating the day by pulling one on Watson. Yes, he did wake him up at 7:15 one morning in early April to say "Mrs. Hudson has been knocked up," but that's more of a trick on our modern ear for words.

If you think about it, though, Sherlock Holmes was the perfect person to be playing pranks. He is a trickster throughout his career, fooling people with disguises, making cryptic references to what he knows and they don't, running fake ads in the newspaper to lure people to 221B. But he only ever runs his pranks on people with a purpose.

One trend you always notice in modern April Fool's Day behavior is the abuse of power differentials. Adults play pranks on children. Trusted sources use their podium to toss out some far-fetched story. And those desperate for attention offer a hoped-for bit of news to those desperate for that news. One of the earliest historical mentions of an April prank is a guy who would send his servants on silly errands, so it would seem like this April abuse of power has always been a part of it.

Ha-ha, foolish you for not being me, who has now shown myself to be up on you!

Sherlock Holmes didn't need April Fool's Day, because, in a very real sense, every day was full of fools for him. People came to him for help because they knew they were out of their depth -- many of them self-admitted fools. Early in his career, Holmes liked to call Lestrade and Scotland Yard fools. But Sherlock Holmes berated himself for being a fool many times as well.

If anyone wanted to take advantage of a power differential and just play prank after prank on people, Sherlock Holmes and his brother Mycroft would have been the pair to do it. But they didn't. Because they were smart enough to see the larger prank: That the smarter you are, you more realize that you don't know. (And at some point have to decide what lumber to put in your brain-attic and what to stor in your library, as Holmes pointed out.)

April Fool's Day would probably be best celebrated like Saint Patrick's Day, where everyone claims to be Irish. On April first, we all just admit what fools we are and go with it. For this one day, we quit bagging on sweet, lovable Nigel Bruce for being the dumbest Watson ever and chant "ONE OF US! ONE OF US!" Because, really, we're all ol' Nigel at some point. (And, if we're nice enough the rest of the time, people will still love us as Rathbone's Holmes did the old duffer.)

It's a day for silliness, and if we allow that we ourselves are most foolish of all, as Sherlock Holmes did on occasion ("I think, Watson, that you are standing in the presence of one of the most absolute fools in Europe."), I think we're going to have a much better time of it.

Now excuse me while I go prepare for some extreme foolishness.